My Neighbors the Yamadas : 3 of 5
When Disney signed the deal to dub and release the classic Studio Ghibli movies from Japan a few years ago, I was surprised to see that this film was included, since it's probably the "least-Ghibli" movie the studio has ever made. I recently realized I should get the DVD just to complete my set (even though I had already seen it a long time ago), and I had fun enjoying this unusual (yet creative and interesting) movie filled with Japanese culture. The most striking aspect of My Neighbors the Yamadas is the visual style, which can only be described as comic strip sketching (quite Peanuts-like, in a way), completely different from the realistic fantasy worlds of the other Ghibli movies. Although the artwork is almost childlike, it's also amazing how it uses moving backgrounds and complex camera angles (at times), and I loved how the watercolor feel fades away at the edges of the frame. Similar to the artwork, the structure of the plot (if you can call it that) is also comic strip inspired, since the film is really just a long series of short gags, which seems like it would get old after an hour and forty minutes, but somehow manages to stay funny! The Yamadas are a typical (perhaps stereotyped) Japanese family with a dad, mom, son, daughter, and of course, the live-in mother-in-law, and their lives unfold in hilarious short stories, often punctuated by meaningful haiku verses. There's a fairly-long segment about accidentally leaving the daughter in a department store, a super-funny TV remote control battle (where the dad keeps blocking the mom's attempt to change the channel), and a beautiful dream-like sequence about the family as a whole that contains great cultural references like the story of Momotaro. The movie is mostly wrapped up in a musical number set to Que Sera Sera (pretty interesting in Japanese), and watching the whole thing is really relaxing and fun! Like all the Disney-Ghibli DVDs, there's a short bonus feature about the dubbing as well as a way to view the storyboards, which end up looking like the finished film in this case. My Neighbors the Yamadas is about as far from Princess Mononoke or My Neighbor Totoro as you can get, but it's still a fascinating and heartwarming look at family life from a Japanese point of view.